How many Languages?

Old Nov 3rd, 2007, 06:23 AM
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How many Languages?

We are visiting Italy, Greece, and Germany next year. I was thinking of learning some phrases in each language, and got to wondering...

As world travelers,how many languages do Fodorites speak?

Also, anyone know any online language resources?
lvillinois is offline  
Old Nov 3rd, 2007, 06:39 AM
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I have use for many years; you can practice and hear the right pronunciation. It is really a great resource.
Viajero2 is offline  
Old Nov 3rd, 2007, 06:46 AM
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There was a similar thread about this in the past, where individual Fodorites replied. Obviously, it varies, with many (probably most) Fodorites speaking none, other than their native language. I'm always surprised at the people who travel a lot for years, even repeatedly to one country, and never bother or want to learn that language beyond a few words, and they may not even know the spelling or pronunciation of those few words very well. Ultimately, some people are more interested in language than others, like any interest, and it does take a lot of time to learn a foreign language.

A few people on here have mentioned they speak up to 6 maybe, I forget, but I was sure impressed as I think it is difficult to do that and switch between languages. It is for me, I get them confused in my brain. When I am trying to speak Spanish, for example, which I don't know as well, I often lapse into French because I know it so much better.

There is also the question of what people define as "speaking" a foreign language. To me, that means able to speak extemporaneously , at least in the present and simple past tense, and making yourself understood--beyond a rote sentence or two about asking what's on a menu or how much something costs.

Anyway, there are tons of online resources. The BBC has a good section on languages (I know they do for French). The website has excellent sections on some major foreign languages (Spanish, French, German, Italian, a few others).

They don't have Greek, which is probably harder to come by online. Here is a site for you on that

I found Greek a more difficult language to learn compared to Romance languages due to its verb structures (they still have cases), and you have to learn a different alphabet, also, of course, if you really want to read things. I studied it a little when I traveled there some years ago, but it was kind of a problem because when I'd say something simple in Greek to a Greek person, they sometimes assumed I spoke Greek, so would start rattling off something which I didn't understand at all.

I'm sure you can find websites just to give you a few travelers phrases in most languages. is a good portal for all languages and will give you lots of resources and links.
Christina is offline  
Old Nov 3rd, 2007, 06:47 AM
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For basic travel phrases, I like

I've studied 9 languages, but can only claim to really speak 5, including English. And I have varying degrees of fluency, and am rather poor at writing in several of them.
StCirq is offline  
Old Nov 3rd, 2007, 07:02 AM
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I speak, write and read English and Spanish. I understand and speak some Italian and Catalan. I dream of being fluent in French, but I am nowhere near that....

I surprised myself when I learned basic traveler phrases in German MUCH easier than the French equivalents.

A lot of people say they speak Spanish and in reality, they are nowhere near close to been fluent in Spanish....
Viajero2 is offline  
Old Nov 3rd, 2007, 07:05 AM
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English native
French fluent
Russian poorly
waring is offline  
Old Nov 3rd, 2007, 07:11 AM
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People are seldom totally fluent in more than 2 languages ( let's say : the language of the country they live in and , if different, their mother tongue) ,
Some have studied languages for a long time (in university or when living in foreign countries), some declare " fluency" after taking one course..
I found German extremely difficult to learn ( an attempt before going to Austria), but 8 months of learning Spanish ( before visiting Spain) was a joy ! It was so gratifying to say something to .... and have them answer in Spanish.
But "fluent" in way!
So, since you have asked : bilingual, + can get by in Spanish, Italian and French.
danon is online now  
Old Nov 3rd, 2007, 08:02 AM
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As in native speakers of both languages will identify you as one of their own?

I have only ever met two people in this category, and still, they had gaps in their cultural knowledge.

i.e. My Anglo-French friend, while being able to pass herself off as English to the English and French to the French has virtually no knowledge of French history or culture.
waring is offline  
Old Nov 3rd, 2007, 08:09 AM
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Guess I should answer the question myself! English native, some French, planning to study German as that's 1/4 my heritage.

Travlang seems like the site so will check it out! Thanks
lvillinois is offline  
Old Nov 3rd, 2007, 08:27 AM
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English is my mother tongue. I am fluent in Dutch, after living here for 24 years. I can understand a lot of German and know basic German phrases. The same with French and Spanish. My poor brain gets confused nowadays when we travel to other countries, including the UK, as to which language should come out. Usually the wrong one bubbles up first and it takes a real effort to come up with the right one.
I used to understand Welsh and speak it a bit but lack of practice over the years mean I have lost my real Mother tongue (in as much as it is what my mother spoke as her first language).
My sons are all truly bilingual, having grown up in Holland, though not born here, going through the Dutch School system, but speaking English exclusivly at home.
My Grandson is also being raised bi-lingually - his father and we speak English to him, his mother and her family speak Dutch.
hetismij is offline  
Old Nov 3rd, 2007, 11:57 AM
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I speak one language fluently - English. (Which is the most useful worldwide.)

Studied both French and Spanish is school (during the last ice age) - so I can stumble along with basics - read menus, hold simple conversations, get directions etc - and can understand quite a bit more And since Italian and Portuguese are also romance languages I can get the basics there - if people speak slowly.

Now, since English is a Germanic language (and Dutch is the next closest) I can intuit a little with German and Scandinavian languages.

But I make it a point to learn at least a little basic tourist of wherever I;m going (please, thank you, where, when , how much, numbers, days of the week and basic questions - as in Where is the toilet?). but you can learn that much of any language in a couple of days (as long as it uses the Roman alphabet).

Slavic languages are more of a challenge - but I do the basics (above) and have found there is someone who understands a little basic english - or sign language - everywhere I've been.
nytraveler is offline  
Old Nov 3rd, 2007, 12:06 PM
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Norwegian, native
(understand swedish and danish as they are VERY similar to norwegian)


German, ok

Spanish, some

Wish I had learned some french...
Loveling is offline  
Old Nov 3rd, 2007, 01:19 PM
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waring-- your definition of bilingual >> native speakers of both languages will identify you as one of their own<< is absolutely wrong and nowhere near correct. Bilingualism is the ability to eeefctively use either one of two languages, especially when speaking.

If you have only met two people in your life who meet the definition of bilingual, you need to come down the mountain once in a while, dude...

Viajero2 is offline  
Old Nov 3rd, 2007, 01:33 PM
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I would probably correct you to :

Norwegian - native
English - native

the few Norwegians I have met have had a better understanding and use of my language than I do!

We are going to Tromso for New Year and I am ready to be corrected at every turn! LOL
markrosy is offline  
Old Nov 3rd, 2007, 01:43 PM
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It is a shame that laguages are often picked for us as students (Spanish was required for my sons in middle school) or that we pick them ourselves before we have travelled abroad and then discover that we made a mistake.

I studied Spanish for 2 1/2 years - have spent a total of 2 weeks in Spanish speaking countries.

I studied Japanese for 1 1/2 years and have spent 2 weeks in Japan.

I studied German for 1 year and have spent several weeks in German speaking coutgries and hpe to spend several more.

I have not studied French and have spent 5 weeks in France and hope to spend several more. I can now rely on my wife for French speaking.
bigtyke is offline  
Old Nov 3rd, 2007, 01:52 PM
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My native tongue is American English. I speak German pretty well. I've been studying Spanish for several years in a desultory way. I can speak Spanish but have difficulty in understanding native speakers of Spanish. I sometimes have to ask them to repeat or to speak more slowly.

I studied Latin in high school and Japanese for a time, Russian very briefly.
Pegontheroad is offline  
Old Nov 4th, 2007, 05:06 AM
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I wouldn't ever define bilingual as meaning a native of a country would think you are, also. It's just someone who is completely comfortable speaking two languages, and can do it fluently, without bothering to "think" about things in their head beforehand.

My brother is bilingual in English (our native language) and Spanish, because he lived in El Salvador about four years, and even worked for their government and has a wife from there. So he speaks Spanish fluently, but no one in the world would think he is El Salvadorean. Similarly, all of my French teachers at the Alliance Francaise speak English very fluently, but almost all of them still have detectable French accents, even after they've lived in the US many years, and it is obvious they were not born in the USA (or the UK). A lot of the people I know that are bilingual still have slight accents from their native countries, and it's very obvious they are not native Americans (I know a lot, also, as I live in Wash DC and there are lot of people from the international community here, or working for various agencies or nonprofits, who are expats and bi-lingual).

I personally don't think it makes any difference what language is picked for someone in middle school, if they don't study one for many years in university or later, as no one remembers much of anything anyway from studying a language a few years in middle or high school. It certainly doesn't make one able to speak the language. Some schools may only have one foreign language program -- where I live, they have several options even in Middle School (Spanish, Italian and French, at least).
Christina is offline  
Old Nov 4th, 2007, 05:27 AM
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I have a feeling I responded to a similar thread on languages a while ago, so I am probably repeating myself... but anyway, I have always understood the word "bilingual" to refer to somebody who speaks two languages at "native-speaker" level. At least, that's how I've always heard it used in the UK. In France, they will use the word "bilingue" or "trilingue" simply to refer to somebody who speaks their native language plus one or two foreign languages fluently (I worked in France as a "hôtesse bilingue" for a while).

Anyway, although the language I speak at home is French and most French speakers don't realise (at least not straight away) that it's not my native language, I wouldn't call myself bilingual, simply because I can't express myself as perfectly in French as I can in English. It's also why, as a translator, I would never ever translate INTO French, at least not professionally.

I also speak Spanish quite fluently, plus Italian, Romanian and some Portuguese. Would like to branch away from the Romance languages one day, and maybe learn something like Dutch (useful here in Belgium) or even Greek.
hanl is offline  
Old Nov 4th, 2007, 05:34 AM
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Before I had a stroke four years ago, I spoke five different languages. Since the stroke, I have aphasia which means "Loss of Words".

I had to relearn English and French. I still understand Spanish and Swedish but speaking it tough. I need to get started in a conversation and I can continue. Same for German.

Like Loveling, the Swedish is similar to Norwegian and Danish and I can understand.

I spoke those five languages sufficient to do my job (tehnical too)although I never capable or writing in anything except English. Okay, maybe I can write small letters or notes but not proficient.

My wife spoke the same languages but she's a much better student. In my case, I have a good memory and that gives me an edge about languages.

One last ability that I have. I can get myself fed in every country I visited.

blackduff is offline  
Old Nov 4th, 2007, 07:00 AM
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I only speak English with any degree of competence. I took Spanish, but I stink at it. I can pretty much read a menu in French. Same with Danish. Been to Greece last year, and you definitely don't need to know Greek. Same with Germany and Italy. It won't be like Holland or Scandinavia, where literally everyone speaks English pretty well, but you will be able to do the basics.

To be honest, though, I think you can pretty much travel the world with only English. You might not get to know the locals, but you won't get to know them by learning how to say, "I would like another glass of water" either. Please, thank you, and excuse me are about all I think you really need to learn. Let's face it, most Europeans speak English with more fluency than one can learn from some phrase book, so why waste their time?
travelgourmet is offline  

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